Updated: Mar 5, 2021
The 2021 season may only seem like a continuation of 2020 in many ways, with the majority of each car carried over to cut costs in light of the pandemic, but the prospect of 7 new driver line ups has kept fans speculating over the winter season.
Here's our take on the likely winner and loser of each inter-team rivalry, starting with the most one-sided and finishing up with our vote for the closest battle.
Williams - George Russell vs Nicolas Latifi
One of three driver line-ups to remain unchanged for 2021, don't expect to see Latifi start to get near Russell on pace. Admittedly Latifi would have finished higher in the 2020 standings had Russell not got an outing for Mercedes, but that doesn't give any indication as to Russell's true advantage over Latifi, averaging over sixth tenths in qualifying - the biggest gap between any team mates.
With a full year's experience under his belt and a more normal pre-season following the complete disruption of 2020, Latifi may well close the pace deficit slightly, but we still think Russell will be miles ahead of his team-mate.
Verdict - Russell to dominate Latifi once again
Mercedes - Lewis Hamilton vs Valtteri Bottas
2020 was arguably the most complete season of Lewis Hamilton's career en route to his seventh world championship, and despite posing a threat in qualifying, Valtteri Bottas never managed to challenge Hamilton regularly on race day.
The pair head into their fifth season as team-mates and at this point in pre-season we normally expect a narrative to develop around 'Bottas 2.0' - how the Finn has returned a more complete driver ready to finally challenge Lewis. This year, however, it feels that even Bottas is resigned to Hamilton claiming a record-breaking eight world title.
Verdict - Hamilton to brush Bottas aside
Alpine - Esteban Ocon and Fernando Alonso
Alonso's return to F1 has already been met with considerable anticipation, with many questioning whether the two time world champion is wise to make a comeback after two years away.
Esteban Ocon failed to deliver on expectations in 2020, comprehensively outpaced by Daniel Ricciardo. He faces an uphill struggle against one of the toughest competitors in F1 history, and if anyone can return from a two-year break at the highest level, it's surely Alonso.
Verdict - Alonso to inflict more damage on Ocon's reputation
Aston Martin - Lance Stroll and Sebastian Vettel
Both drivers are under pressure coming into 2021, with Vettel suffering an embarrassing final season at Ferrari and Stroll finishing way off his 2020 teammate Checo Perez.
Vettel was reinvigorated when he joined Ferrari from Red Bull back in 2015, and he will be hoping to experience similar success at Aston and propel the team into the top 3. The rear end stability and low rake set-up should suit Vettels driving style - so there are promising signs that he will recapture some of the form that made him a four time World Champion. Stroll's seat is not in jeopardy with his father Lawrence owning the team and he has the advantage of a years experience driving the car, but now entering his fifth season in F1, he needs to deliver consistent results.
Verdict - Vettel to be a level above Stroll
Red Bull - Max Verstappen Vs Sergio Perez
All eyes will be on Checo Perez as he aims to conquer the seemingly poisoned chalice of the number 2 Red Bull Seat.
If Perez's 2020 performances with Racing Point are anything to go by, he will surely be much closer to Verstappen than Pierre Gasly and Alex Albon managed. But Verstappen boasts a special talent, is well established in a team built around him, and it will take Perez time to get used to a car that will feel extremely different to the Racing Point.
Verdict - Verstappen to be comfortably faster, but Perez to be much closer after the first half of the season
Alfa Romeo- Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi
Alfa's driver line up remains unchanged for a third season, and as such the pairing has generated the least amount of speculation for 2021 so far.
Raikkonen and Giovinazzi were tied on 4 points each in 2020, with Giovinazzi generally the quicker driver, but Raikkonen's utilising his vast experience to good effect - such as gaining 10 positions on the opening lap in the slippery conditions at Portimao. This might well be the last season for both these drivers, and at 41 it wouldn't be a surprise for Kimi's motivation to start to slide midway through the season
Verdict - Giovinazzi to be third time lucky against Raikkonen
Ferrari - Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz
Sainz was hugely impressive in his two years at McLaren, but the pressure of driving for the Scuderia is unparalleled.
Leclerc is a special talent and, like Verstappen, is very much established in his team. Sainz will have his work cut out , but more importantly both will be hoping that the Ferrari engine will allow the team to catapult to the front of the midfield pack
Verdict - Leclerc to outpace Sainz but the gap will be much smaller by the end of the season
Alpha Tauri - Pierre Gasly and Yuki Tsunoda
Gasly enjoyed a stunning 2020 season to resurrect his career and easily outpace team-mate Danil Kvyat, having been dropped by Red Bull mid way through 2019.
Much is expected of Tsunoda, who impressed in his single F2 season. If he can start to challenge Gasly by the end of the season, then Red Bull may be willing to take a punt on the first Japanese driver since Kamui Kobayashi for 2022
Verdict - Gasly to edge it but Tsunoda to show flashes of brilliance
Haas- Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin
Mazepin has dominated the headlines for all the wrong reasons, making a strong argument to be the most disliked driver of the 21st century before even starting a race. His lack of remorse for his actions - posting a video on social media of him groping a girl in a car - suggest that he is likely to be unruffled by all the criticism that continues to come his way.
Take into consideration that Mick Schumacher tends to take a while to get up to speed in a new series, and that he has enjoyed far less F1 testing than Mazepin, that all the signs point to Mazepin being the faster driver to begin with at least
Verdict - Neither driver to score points but Mazepin to edge Schumacher
McLaren - Daniel Ricciardo and Lando Norris
Norris has impressed in two seasons with McLaren and is now fully integrated into a team that impressed with its progress over 2020.
The arrival of Ricciardo will certainly be Norris' toughest test yet, and may be a make or break season for the Brit. Ricciardo is well established as a top-tier driver and will need to get to grips with the McLaren quickly if he wants to finish ahead of Norris in the standings.
Verdict - Almost too close to call but Ricciardo to sneak ahead of Norris
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